making a dent

Hello and happy 2017! Although my personal politics largely deviate from those of President-Elect Trump, I’m hoping that nonpartisan matters of policy will remain unaffected – give them the benefit of the doubt for now. The nominee for EPA Administrator under the Trump administration is an attorney who has worked to fight EPA on behalf of oil and gas interests, and who doesn’t believe in climate change. How will he, if confirmed, approach issues that are less partisan, like aging water and wastewater infrastructure across the country? Can’t everyone agree that the crisis in Flint, Michigan should not be repeated?

In a recent editorial, David Sedlak, editor of my favorite journal, Environmental Science and Technology, proposed that President-Elect Trump could make America great again by starting with its water and wastewater infrastructure – a bargain can be had for a mere $100 billion, leaving plenty of room for more showy projects like roads and tunnels and bridges.

Well, imagine my surprise to see this press release from EPA in January, before Trump and his team formally take office: EPA Launches New Program With $1 Billion in Loans Available for Water Infrastructure Projects. Wow, the Trump folks are getting started early? A final gesture from the Obama administration?

Not quite. The program has approximately $17 million in existing funding, which EPA estimates can be leveraged at a ratio greater than 50 to one. By this math, the $17 million program budget “could allow EPA to make approximately $1 billion in loans and stimulate about $2 billion in total infrastructure investment.” My hopes are tempered, but I maintain hope that this $2 billion investment will start to make a dent in the problem.

The rub comes in the last sentence of the press release:

EPA estimates that the U.S. needs about $660 billion in investments for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure over the next 20 years.


So chalk this program up to good things that barely make a real dent in the problem. As Dr. Sedlak pointed out, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given our water infrastructure a grade of D now. I shudder to think of where we’ll be in 5 or 10 years if our politicians don’t commit soon to making a real dent in this need.